return to Australia
Students from two major universities will be the first to return to Australia. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) will allow 350 international students to return to Australia this July, piloting a plan to bring some of its 120,000 international students back to its higher learning institutions.

This is in line with the Australian federal government plan to welcome international students back in phases post-COVID-19 closure.

Though 80% of international students were able to return to Australia for the first semester this February, second-semester enrolments were dismal. Universities nationwide are acting fast to safely bring their students back from abroad.

How will international students return to Australia?

return to Australia

Nearly 120,000 international students have been unable to return to their university in Australia during the pandemic. Source: David Gray/AFP

Canberra is already open for interstate travel, making it a suitable location to lead this plan.

According to ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, returning students will be subject to the same quarantine rules and health precautions as citizens and residents entering Australia.

“[The number of students] will be in the low hundreds; we are talking about one or two flights initially, just as we have managed repatriation flights,” he said.

The first batch consists of 350 international students at Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Canberra (UC). They will board a charter flight into Canberra and undergo 14-day quarantine before returning to campus.

Besides ACT, New South Wales and Victoria have also maintained open borders throughout COVID-19. These states are now exploring how they too could allow students to return to Australia.

Universities keen to get students back

return to Australia

Which Australian university will welcome international students back next? Source: William West/AFP

According to The Guardian Australia, the universities will prioritise allowing research, postgraduate, honours, and final-year undergraduate students to return to Australia.

“Canberra has thousands of hotel rooms and we have a big staff. We will try to ramp this up at a time and at a scale where we can do so safely,” ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt told the publication.

UC vice-chancellor Paddy Nixon said conducting this pilot now would “allow us and Australia the time to develop the right processes and protocols to ensure the safety of those students coming to our campuses” ahead of international student recruitment in the first semester of 2021.

“We’re very keen to get our students back and give them a safe and secure environment to learn,” he said.

Australia’s trade and tourism minister Simon Birmingham hopes the international student pilot programme may pave the way for travellers to enter the country again. At the same time, health safeguards remain firmly in place to keep those in Australia safe.

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